Having ritualized the act of gathering as community in the opening song, procession, sign of the cross and greeting, we move onto our next item of business in our liturgical celebration: praising God for God’s mercy. We are reminded of the powerful words of Jesus as we gather for worship: “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23-24).

Our gathering as a community is not without its bumps and bruises. We see division and hurt within our own parish community; sometimes we are the cause of that division and hurt. Thus, our act of gathering is not complete without first acknowledging our sinfulness against God and neighbor and asking for forgiveness. We do this in a communal way.

The first form of the penitential rite is the “Confiteor.” The word “Confiteor” comes from the first words of the prayer, “I confes.” The prayer used to be a private prayer of preparation said in the sacristy by the priest and the servers. It appeared at the beginning of Mass around the 10th century – but was still done quietly as a preparation rite for the priest and ministers. This prayer best expresses the communal nature of the Church: “I confess to Almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters…therefore I ask the Blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”

The other form we often hear is the Greek “Kyrie.” This is a short litany, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” Each response may include a short invocation. This simple litany may follow the Confiteor or may stand alone with its invocations.

Both the Confiteor and the Kyrie do not dwell on sin but rather on God’s gift of mercy. In the Confiteor, we pray that God may hear our prayers for mercy and answer them favorably. The suggested invocations of the Kyrie that are in the Roman Missal also recall God’s works of mercy and do not focus on our own sinfulness.

In participating in the Penitential Act at Mass, may we always be mindful of God’s mercy and love, for it is in that mercy and love we find the peace and hope that only God can provide.

– Josh Perry is director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Burlington.